Widow of murdered Alexander Litvinenko wins High Court battle in fight for public inquiry

Ruling means Home Secretary must reconsider whether there will be a public inquiry into death of former KGB spy

The widow of murdered former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko has hailed a High Court victory that raises her hopes of obtaining a public inquiry into her husband's death as "unbelievable".

Marina Litvinenko had challenged the UK Government's decision to await the outcome of a normal inquest before deciding whether there should be an inquiry with powers to probe more deeply into the killing.

Now three High Court judges have decided that Home Secretary Theresa May must reconsider the decision in the light of their ruling. Mrs Litvinenko's lawyers described it as “a very strong ruling”.

Speaking outside court, Mrs Litvinenko said she was “very glad” the ruling had gone in her favour.

She said: “It is just unbelievable. It shows that there was not any reason to say I did not have the right for a public inquiry.”

She called on Mrs May to “accept this decision”.

The judges have given the Government until Friday to decide whether to lodge an appeal.

Speaking for the three judges, Lord Justice Richards said: “I am satisfied that the reasons given by the Secretary of State do not provide a rational basis for the decision not to set up a statutory inquiry at this time but to adopt a 'wait and see' approach.”

Quashing the decision, the judge said: “The deficiencies in the reasons are so substantial that the decision cannot stand.”

Lord Justice Richards, sitting with Lord Justice Treacy and Mr Justice Mitting, said: “The case for setting up an immediate statutory inquiry as requested by the coroner is plainly a strong one.

”The existence of important factors in its favour is acknowledged, as I have said, in the Secretary of State's own decision letter.“

The judge said he would not go so far as to accept submissions made by Ben Emmerson QC, on behalf of Mrs Litvinenko, that Mrs May's refusal to set up an inquiry was so obviously contrary to the public interest as to be irrational - ”that is to say, that the only course reasonably open to her is to accede to the coroner's request“.

But he warned the Home Secretary: ”If she is to maintain her refusal, she will need better reasons than those given in the decision letter, so as to provide a rational basis for her decision.“

Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive polonium Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive polonium He said she must now give fresh consideration to the exercise of her discretion under the 2005 Inquiries Act, taking into account points made in the court's judgment.

But he said: ”I would stress that the judgment does not of itself mandate any particular outcome.“

He described the Home Secretary's discretion as ”a very broad one“.

He said: ”I do not think that this court is in a position to say that the Secretary of State has no rational option but to set up a statutory inquiry now“.

Mrs Litvinenko says she wants to get to the truth of how her 43-year-old husband came to die in 2006 after fleeing Russia and receiving political asylum in the UK.

He was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 while drinking tea with two Russian men, one a former KGB officer, at the Millennium Hotel in London's Grosvenor Square.

His family believes he was working for MI6 at the time and was killed on the orders of the Kremlin.

Mr Emmerson accused Mrs May at the hearing which led to today's ruling of adopting the ”bizarre“ position of waiting to see what comes out of a pending inquest so restricted that it will not be able to examine secret evidence linked to allegations of Russian state involvement in the death.

Mr Emmerson argued there was ”a strong and overwhelming“ need for a public inquiry.

It was needed to establish whether Mr Litvinenko was the victim of a crime committed ”for private criminal purposes“ or whether it was a ”state-sponsored assassination carried out on the territory of the UK on the orders of the Russian government“.

He added that a statutory inquiry was the only way of investigating that central question as it involved accessing ”sensitive“ information covered by public interest immunity certificates. The courts had decided that information could not be made available to the inquest.

The coroner - High Court judge Sir Robert Owen - called for a public inquiry, said Mr Emmerson.

Neil Garnham QC, for the Home Secretary, argued that the claim should fail because the obligation to hold an effective, official investigation into the death is being discharged by the Government through a police investigation and the proposed inquest.

He submitted Mrs May's decision not to hold a public inquiry is rational and lawful.

A Home Office spokesman said: ”We are carefully considering the judgment. The Government continues to fully co-operate with the coroner's inquest into Mr Litvinenko's death.“

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Sport
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
football
News
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn